The War on Youth

The Greatest and Silent Generations understood the importance of a social contract. After having experienced World Wars and the Great Depression, they understood the need to build community. Then their kids (that's us, btw,) got greedy.

The War on Youth
April 24 2024 pro Palestine protests at the University of Texas at Austin. (photo under Creative Commons license)

Cops in riot gear and on horseback swarmed the University of Texas (at Austin) campus last Wednesday and arrested around 34 students and protestors who, by all accounts, were protesting peacefully. Witnesses claim to have seen cops pushing students to the ground and punching a female student. A press photographer was also arrested. The kids were there to participate in a pro-Palestinian rally. It was not the first protest on the campus and was just one of several being held on college campuses nationwide. Many of the students were chanting "Free Palestine" while marching to the South Lawn. The Austin American Statesman has a pretty good timeline of the events, (with photos.)

Faculty members, on the whole, were furious at the arrests. “Instead of allowing our students to go ahead with their peaceful planned action, our leaders turned our campus into a militarized zone,” said a statement posted on social media by the Texas chapter of the American Association of University Professors. “We are deeply concerned for our students’ well-being and safety.” UT Administrators freely admitted to calling out the cavalry after alerting the sponsoring group (The student-led Palestine Solidarity Committee) that their scheduled protest was canceled.

DPS troopers claimed they were deployed at the university’s request and Governor Abbott's direction. This is no surprise - the governor has been spoiling for a fight over campus protests for a while.

Scenes at UT from last week.

On April 18, police cleared an encampment of students at Columbia University in N.Y. This seemed to embolden both protestors and law enforcement across the country. Student groups grew and became more active, and local and state police (often in riot gear or on horseback) started making arrests on campuses across the country.

University administrators, who have been under fire for having allowed antisemitism to spread at their schools, are between a rock and a hard place. They have been criticized for years for not allowing conservative speakers on their campuses. Student safety was usually cited as the reason – many of the speakers were known to be provocateurs and drew angry and disruptive crowds. To be fair, college faculties and student bodies are more liberal-leaning than ever before and have been intolerant of right-wing ideologues on campus. The result has been the definition of "cancel culture." In the modern era, the left has effectively labeled ultra-right-wing speech as "hate speech" and complained that it "triggers" students or makes them feel unsafe.

After Israel's military response to the violent Hamas terrorist attack, Jewish groups have been able to similarly frame criticism of Netanyahu's military campaign as antisemitic. They too have claimed to be victimized by "hate speech" and to feel physically threatened by the presence of so many protestors. Jewish students complain that they fear speaking up. Conservatives have declared that colleges are unsafe for right-wing expression.

For a good example of partisanship and hypocrisy, look no further than Gov. Abbott's SB18 passed in 2019 to "protect free speech on college campuses." Universities at that time were denying student groups permits to bring right-wing speakers like Ben Shapiro, Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter to lecture on campus. Even comedian/pundit Bill Maher was temporarily disinvited after he'd been asked to deliver a commencement speech at Berkley in California. In 2017, conservative-leaning Texas A&M canceled a white nationalist rally to be led by Richard Spencer, due to safety concerns. (Thousands had protested an earlier rally.) The promoter of the event promised it would be like the infamous "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a vehicle plowed into a group of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19. Spencer was the leader of the neo-Nazi "alt-right" movement that marched with torches and Nazi slogans in Charlottesville.

Even the left was not spared in "free speech" crackdowns – Beto O'Rourke's campaign workers were not allowed to hand out campaign flyers on the UT campus.

Abbott failed to mention how this law will be selectively applied.

SB18 guaranteed that students on campus had a right to protest, without school sponsors and with fewer limits on permits, locations, and other restrictions. (So we can have more Nazis?) This would seem to guarantee pro-Palestinian protestors a lot of free rein to speak openly and conduct peaceful demonstrations. You'd think that's what the law meant, right?

Well, no, not exactly. Abbott and his cronies aren't in the mood to see college students camped out on campuses wearing keffiyehs, criticizing Israel. Their pointy heads explode when they hear these little agitators demand that university endowments cut financial ties with Israel and various defense contractors that are involved in supplying Netanyahu with weapons and ammunition.

The move to forcefully break up the encampments, protests, and rallies has been wildly successful, but not in the way that authorities hoped for. Predictable to almost anyone who has raised a college student, telling them not to do something is a virtual guarantee that it will be done again - with feeling. And so across the country, the protests have spread like wildfire and grown more acrimonious. Colleges are now canceling commencement exercises due to, you guessed it, safety concerns.

It appears that young adults have had enough. This generation missed their high school graduations due to the pandemic. They are now willing to forego their college commencement exercises for the cause. Somewhere between all the parties, the late-night pizzas, and a civics class or two, they probably heard something about their right to free speech, (as outlined in that Constitution thingee.) It must have sunk in. They are concerned that it doesn't seem to apply to them or their beliefs.

I attended a small public university and I remember 'back in the day' that a semester hour was about $3. I remember that my first semester's tuition bill was under $200, (books, room and board not included.) But I don't think a meal plan and a dorm room cost more than $1000-1500 for the semester? In my sophomore year, the school wanted to remodel and expand the student center, so they added a $100 per semester "student use fee." You would have thought that they were robbing us at gunpoint the way people reacted.

Fast forward, my son graduated from U.T. in 2018, and the cost was over $10,000 per year, (books were another grand or so, and then there was the cost of housing and food in Austin.) Now I wasn't a math major, but you can factor in all the inflation or new student center fees that you want, and the multiple of that price increase is insane. Today, even the University of Houston is about $12K a year; we used to call UH a "commuter school" since most of the student body was local. Now it's the most expensive state school in Texas!

Growing up, we were a family on a tight budget - and then my mom divorced my dad when I was a high school senior. So that $200 tuition + books + room and board was not inconsequential, but it was doable. A small grant here, a little scholarship from a community group there, a summer job and part-time work during the school year and I made it through without student loans. My friends who DID take student loans left school with maybe a few thousand dollars in debt at a reasonable interest rate.

To finance college these days, (especially if you're on the margin,) often takes tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Loans are marketed to kids who barely understand compound interest. Loans that are difficult to refinance. Loans that are obligations without recourse, (student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court.)

"But kids don't have to have a degree, why can't they learn a trade?" They can. But in Houston, getting so much as a cosmetology certification costs around $11K. That's $11,000 to be able to cut hair or give manicures. The world could always use more millwrights, truckers, welders, and HVAC techs. Most of these jobs also require additional education. Depending on the certification program or the necessary coursework, the cost can range from a couple to several thousand dollars. These trade schools can be eligible for loans just like universities. It is not uncommon for poor-quality private trade schools to prey upon less well-off students. Some are set up to milk the federal student loan program, others are just outright scams. Think: Trump University.

Scott Galloway writes,

We’ve broken the social contract that binds America: Work hard, play by the rules, and you’ll be better off than your parents were. For the first time in our nation’s history, this is no longer true. Today’s 25-year-olds make less than their parents and grandparents did at the same age, yet they carry student debt loads unimaginable to earlier generations. Neither the minimum nor median wage has kept pace with inflation or productivity gains, while housing costs have outpaced them. The statistics on children’s and young adults’ well-being are staggering.
None of this is lost on young people, and the shattering of the social contract has left them feeling rage and shame. Half of Americans older than 55 say they are “extremely proud” to be American; that number drops to 18% among 18- to 34-year-olds.
We don’t lack the resources to level up young people and present the opportunities afforded my generation. But the cohorts who benefited most from the extraordinary post-war economic boom of the 20th century have pulled the ladder up behind them.
In 1989 adults under 40 held 12% of household wealth, while those over 70 held 19%. Today those under 40 command just 7% of household wealth, while those over 70 control 30%.
- Galloway, Prof G. Podcast and author of "Adrift, America in 100 Charts"

It's true. Our grandparents and parents handed us this gift - quality public education, affordable post-secondary education, an incredible infrastructure, a decent minimum wage, strong labor unions to share gains in productivity, and most importantly, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid safety nets. The Greatest and Silent Generations understood the importance of a social contract. After having experienced World Wars and the Great Depression, they understood the need to build community. "Freedom" didn't necessarily mean absolute, personal liberty. They developed a progressive tax system (the highest tax bracket was 91%) and built America's middle class. (It should go without saying that not everyone benefitted equally from the post-war boom. Blacks, women, and other minority groups were often excluded from this prosperity, or made subservient to it.)

A funny thing happened. Baby boomers, the generation that followed the Greats and the Silents, MY generation, got greedy. As the beneficiaries of everything that was built for us, we have decided that we don't like to pay taxes. Wealth has become grossly and unevenly distributed. Worse yet, the very wealthiest among us have rigged the tax codes such that secretaries and low-level workers pay higher tax rates than they do. Scott Galloway (professor, author, and millionaire entrepreneur) describes this as "weaponizing the tax code."

During the pandemic, recall that there was no means test for the Paycheck Protection Program "loans" - the well-to-do and big business owners received checks to protect their lifestyles, even if they had resources to keep them solvent. The "loans" were all forgiven. These are the same people who scream the loudest when Biden proposes student loan forgiveness.

Ya think that young people don't understand this? They're starting families later, if at all. They're afraid to bear children, knowing what it costs and the uncertain future their kids would face. In 1990, 60% of people aged 30-34 had one child, now it's 27%. In 4 years, the average price of a home has gone from 290K to 420K. Rents have similarly increased – institutional investors are buying up entire neighborhoods, creating a de facto monopoly on rental units. Abortion is now illegal in many states, and there's talk of outlawing birth control. Did I mention health care costs, Rx costs, and the sorry state of medical insurance? No wonder the younger generation is miserable.

These are ALL systemic problems. We have created the tax codes and labor laws, we have set minimal minimum wages, voting registration rules, and gerrymandered districts. For several years, a huge number of younger workers were the beneficiaries of the demand for tech jobs. They grew up understanding IT and got great jobs in that sector. But being a smart tech kid no longer guarantees you top-tier employment. Elon Musk, who is demanding a 56 billion dollar raise from his "X" company, recently laid off 90% of X employees. The other tech Gods are trying their best to follow that lead. Who could imagine that high-tech computer programmers might become as expendable as low-tech coal miners?

As I write this, another crackdown is taking place on the UT campus. A tent city was ripped down. About 100 arrests have been made. UT administrators again defended their decision to bring in state police. "Officials had warned that they could face punishment including expulsion and Abbott said he believes “students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests” should be expelled."

It's funny how we've repeatedly examined how blue-collar and rural America fell under Trump's spell. We keep asking, 'How did those folks become MAGA converts?' While some of the reasons are complex, one thing is clear: Democrats abandoned them, and the GOP was strategic in how they co-opted them.

Now young Americans are in despair. Many can barely see a future. They are shouting to be heard. There has not been this much unrest on campus since the Vietnam War and civil rights protests of the 60s. The current demonstrations are over the plight of Palestinians, but the ham-fisted response of state/local governments and university administrators has awakened students to the fact that their rights are being quashed.

The kids are angry. Angry enough to become politically active. Will the Democrats listen, or abandon them, too?

The kids are furious. They may well be finally motivated to vote. The question is up in the air, vote for whom?

Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.